August 26 & 27, 2017 Pentecost 12 (Moses Series #9)
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Our God is accustomed to war. His very name, “Lord, Almighty,” literally means “Lord of the Heavenly hosts”, a picture of a commander in chief over an army of angels. He has fought against the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians, and conquered them all. In his judgment of Edom the LORD says in Isaiah 34, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood.”
We are not accustomed to such pictures of God. We are more accustomed to the gentle pictures of Jesus holding children in his arms. Yet even Jesus was not afraid of a battle. More often than not Jesus was the one who picked a fight. When the Pharisees didn’t want him to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus did anyway. When they wanted him to wash his hands, he didn’t. If you think about it, would they have put to death a nice Mr. Rogers kind of guy? No. Jesus reflected his lordship in the courage he showed to fight a battle.
We see this same Warrior God in action in today’s text. As the Israelites are in the middle of the desert on their way to Mt. Sinai, they are attacked by a people called the Amalekites. And God decided it was time not only for him, but also for them to fight. Moses said to the Israelites: It’s Time to Fight the Amalekites.
Exodus 17: 8-16
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
Amalek was a grandson of Esau. If you remember Esau and Jacob didn’t have the best of relations ever since Jacob stole Esau’s birthright. Since that time, the two were never able to live with one another. It seems that Esau’s angry and bitter attitude was given to the generations to come. In Deuteronomy 25 God reminded the Israelites, “When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.” As the Israelites were journeying to the Promised Land, the Amalekites cut off all of the Israelites who were lagging behind which would have been the elderly, the sick and the women with little babies. What a despicable thing to do. But don’t be surprised at it. This is the way that the world works. It lives by one motto: “Only the strong survive.”
Like it or not, you are in the middle of this power struggle, in more ways than one. The god of this world studies you, finds out where your weak spots are. Like the Amalekites, he hits you at your weakest spot. If you have a weakness of pride, he will have someone ridicule you. If you have a weakness of lust, he will come calling through a late night rendezvous on the internet. He knows no limits. He’ll attack your marriage. He’ll attack your children. He’ll attack your past. He’ll take the dirtiest shot he can take, anything to hurt you. He’ll use whatever power he has to rip you away from God. Even though the Israelites weren’t looking for a battle, it came to them. In the same way, the battle will come to you, whether you are ready or not.
The question is, are you ready to fight the Amalekites? Joshua up to this point was Moses’ aide. Whatever Moses needed, Joshua got for him. But now Moses called him to something greater, to fight a battle against a violent and ruthless enemy. This wasn’t just a onetime thing either. The LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” This was to be an ongoing battle to completely eliminate the Amalekites from this earth. When God fights, he doesn’t back down. He doesn’t quit until the enemy is gone. Blood would need to be shed. Joshua was called to lead this battle.
If we are going to call ourselves Christian “soldiers”, then we must realize that a part of being a Christian is more than just singing nice songs and putting on dress clothes on Sunday morning. It’s more than smiling and forgiving and turning the other cheek. When it comes down to it, it’s a battle. We are at war against false teachings, against immorality, against evolution, against pluralism, against materialism, against the world. We need everyone in this church, everyone who call themselves “Christian”, involved in this battle. We need you to pick up your Sword, the Word of God. Being a Christian means having Christian principles based on a solid knowledge of God’s Word and standing up for them. It means being able to look a false teacher in the eye and tell him, “You’re lying!” It means standing on your morals and principles when your friends don’t. These are bold and tough things to do sometimes. It means, parents, that you do your all to bring your children to church, Sunday School and Christ Teens. Sometimes that isn’t easy. It’s a battle. But your children need to know God’s Word or when they get older they will lose the battle and lose their place in heaven. It’s eternal life and death we are talking about. That’s the fight we are in.
Joshua was now being called to be a warrior and he accepted the challenge. Instead of running in fear, he gathered some Israelite men and went to battle. It doesn’t say what the odds were but nonetheless, whether they were tired, outnumbered, or scared, they went and fought. What was it that gave them the courage to go and fight this battle? Moses tells us: Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
Whenever Joshua and his men looked up, they saw Moses standing there holding the staff of the Lord high in the air. They had seen God split the Red Sea with that staff and turn the Nile to blood. This staff had the promise of God’s miraculous power behind it. This same LORD had promised them that they would make it to the Promised Land. He promised them a Savior through their offspring. With that encouragement of LORD’s promise behind the staff, the Israelites fought on and won the war.
So what was the key to winning the war? Obviously, the true victory was in the power and blessing of the LORD. But everyone worked together through faith in the LORD to win this victory. You had the men fighting the battle out front, Moses’ helpers holding his arms up, and Moses holding onto the staff. The funny thing is that this would seem so foolish to the Amalekites. Could you imagine the army joking, “Why on earth is he holding that stick up in the air? Do these guys honestly believe that that piece of wood is going to save them?”
The foolishness of this whole scenario showed God’s strength. God saved the Israelites through a piece of wood. God also saves us through a piece of wood. We call it a cross. We say the cross saves us. We put it on our altar. Now, the world would call us superstitious for putting a piece of wood up on our altar. They say, “Look at those fools, believing in someone who died a criminal’s death over 2,000 years ago to save them from their sins.” But they don’t understand. We’re not worshiping the piece of wood or trusting in the wood, we’re worshiping and trusting in the promise behind the piece of wood. We believe that on that cross God punished his Son for our sins and thus all of our sins have been paid for.
The Israelites fought this battle against the Amalekites together. Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms when he couldn’t hold the staff alone. Some men fought the battle. I would venture to guess that rest of the people cheered them on and encouraged them. Do you find yourself worn out from fighting the battle against an unbelieving world? Could it be that you are worn out because you aren’t looking at your piece of wood and remembering that Jesus won the war? Could it be that you aren’t finding strength from the Lord’s promises in his Word and sacraments? The Gospel in Word and Communion is the power of God at work in us. We also need the strength that comes when we work together with the fellow members, pray with each other and encourage each other with God’s Word.
After Jesus sent out his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, he promised them, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is also a promise to us. This isn’t just our battle. God is on our side. He has commissioned us. He has even promised us that his Word will not return empty. We need to remember that we have the most powerful Being in the universe on our side, the LORD. After the Israelites won the battle it says, Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He wanted all to remember who won the war. It was the faithful LORD. This same LORD is still fighting for us. That’s the key to winning this battle, holding up the cross and keeping it up throughout the battle and looking to the cross for courage and strength to fight. That’s the only thing that will give us courage and energy to keep on fighting. We need to fight this battle against the “Amalekites” together, not with sticks, hatred, or vengeance, but with the cross of Christ, our most powerful weapon of all and with the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit.
We live in a world that is being absolutely exploited and slaughtered by Satan. Even our own children are being attacked with messages of sex and violence. It is so easy to give in to the materialism and immorality of this world, to become so used to it that it doesn’t bother us anymore. But look at what Jesus has done for you. Jesus has died for you to pay for your sins. So don’t just ignore the evil. It is time to fight evil. It is time to put on the sword of the Spirit and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. It’s time to remember that you are a redeemed child of God and live that way amid all the evil of this world. With the LORD on your side and the cross of Christ held high, it’s time to fight the Amalekites. Are you ready? Amen